After months of haggling over whether there should be mandatory rehabilitation for Utah injured workers, the Workmen's Compensation Advisory Council has finally said yes.
In a compromise between a lengthy rehabilitation called for in HB9, sponsored by Rep. Janet Rose, D-Salt Lake, and a bill suggested by the commission eliminating any mandatory rehabilitation, the council favors 26 weeks of rehabilitation payments for injured workers with an option of 26 additional weeks if ordered by the State Industrial Commission.The compromise passed on a 8-6 vote with attorneys representing injured workers before the commission, the Utah AFL-CIO and representatives of organization dealing with handicapped or injured workers opposing organizations of employers.
On a motion from Roger Sandack, an attorney who represents injured workers in their workmen's compensation claims, the council also included in the compromise a provision that some of the injured worker's temporary total disability payments be used for rehabilitation in addition to some money provided by employers.
But, because the council is an advisory group, the commission can suggest anything it wants to the Legislature, but Chairman Stephen M. Hadley promised he would relay the council's vote on the compromise to legislators.
The commission has rewritten a rehabilitation bill 35 times in an effort to find something that injured workers, rehabilitation agencies and employers can agree upon. The latest proposal was to keep the status quo with a voluntary rehabilitation program while the commission spends two years collecting data to determine if rehabilitation is cost effective.
Hadley said he received a letter from Eleanor M. Ross of the Injury and Rehabilitation Management Division of the International Association of Industrial Accident Boards and Associations, which said that officials in most states believe rehabilitation is cost effective but have little data to prove it.
For example, only five states and the District of Columbia provided figures on the cost of rehabilitation, ranging from a high of $13,039 for each case in the District of Columbia to a low of $1,700 in Alabama.
In an effort to get information about the cost effectiveness of rehabilitation money, the council also voted to order the Worker's Compensation Fund of Utah and the Employer's Reinsurance Fund to provide information on its rehabilitation costs and how effective the programs are.
Time is of the essence to get a bill drafted and introduced because legislative leadership said no more bills can be introduced after Jan. 31. Those favoring mandatory rehabilitation are convinced their opposition is trying to delay the issue until no more bills can be introduced.